Engage virtual participants-you can do it! If you are a virtual presenter, facilitator, or trainer and you want better engagement and interaction from your participants (note what I did there, participants, not attendees), then take some time to honestly ask yourself the following questions, also known as The Virtual Trainer’s Mantra:
- What did I say that the participants could have said?
- What did I do that the participants could have done?
Engaging an online audience can be a challenge, even though we have more experience with it today than ever before! The events of March, 2020 changed the world in many ways, bringing virtual training, meetings, and webinars to the forefront, whether we wanted it or not. And yet, even with this experience, it remains difficult to find ways to meaningfully involve participants in an online learning session. Technical problems (so many!), lecture tendencies (it’s just easier!), and too little time (we only have an hour!) tend to be the main reasons for the lack of engagement.
Shifting the focus away from the delivery of everything and towards the receiving of it will change how you approach your virtual sessions.
Here are four steps that you can do to guide participants to say and do things for themselves, ultimately leading them to success!
Step 1: Labels matter
The first step is to call them participants rather than attendees. Participants are active contributors during the process. Attendees are bystanders, watching and waiting to be included.
Step 2: Prevent technical problems
- Send clear information on expectations ahead of time. A video message with a simple list of technical requirements works well.
- Start sessions 30 minutes early and have opening activities planned. Make the subject of the activities connected to the content, and the participation in them to test the use of the technology.
- Use a producer to assist with connecting to and staying involved in your online sessions.
Step 3: Avoid the lecture
Use the Virtual Trainer’s Mantra and instead of talking about the content and asking for questions, ask the participants a question about it first.
An example: I am about to share how we can overcome the challenges of virtual training. I have a list of ways and a few processes all related to this subject. But, before I share my ideas, I first ask them to use annotation tools on a prepared whiteboard to list what they know, feel, and think about the challenges. This gives me insight at the same time involving them with the process. “What did I just say that they could have said?” When it is time to reveal my content, I will make specific connections to what they have shared. Bonus: I have gotten to know them in the process so my delivery can now be more tailored to them.
Step 4: Prepare for the time it takes
Take a moment to consider the point of bringing everyone and everything together. Truly consider it from the perspective of your participants: What do THEY need to DO with the information and content once that session has ended? This will guide how much time is needed for it to be an engaging experience for them, and importantly a truly effective use of time for everyone involved and invested.
It is true that it takes more time to involve participants, but the time we are spending not engaging people with technical problems and non-interactive lectures is a waste of time. Plan where you could let the participants take the lead, provide insight, and share their opinions and experiences. The content will get covered, and in a way that is more relevant to them.
Final thought and a call to action: Why are you working so hard? It is your participants that need to learn. Let them say it and do it and see how engaged your online sessions become right before your very eyes!
This post is part of a booklet in which Learning and Development experts like Julie Dirkson, Clark Quinn, Shannon Tipton, and many more from around the world answer the following two-part question:
“What’s something you think L&D professionals could sometimes improve on, and what tip(s) would you offer for improving?”